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Mary

                                                                        Mary

                                                           by Marco M. Pardi

                                                                  mpardi.com

“There is a unity of the body with the environment, as well as a unity of the body and soul into one person.” Alfred North Whitehead. (1861-1947)

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All comments are well appreciated and will receive a response.

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Readers of this site who peruse the comments will recognize the name Mary.  She has been a consistent, thoughtful and very generous commentator.  Even while traveling she made the effort to assure me she was reading my words and thinking them through.  Her comments almost always contributed to and enhanced what I had written, on any subject. In personal communication she carried much further, providing her thoughts and opinions in ways which were always supportive even if, at times, advising me of better ways of thinking than I had chosen for myself.

An Anthropology student of mine in the early 1970’s, Mary was one of several thousand such students who passed through my classes in my ten years at a particular college.  Some I remember, most I don’t.

Since those years I have traveled much of the world, so deeply involved in other careers that it was not long before I began to occasionally recall those teaching years as, “Oh. Yeah” memories; factual but not very meaningful.  And communication, even had I sought it, with anyone from those years would have been near impossible and, in most circumstances, impermissible.

So it was with surprise, and some trepidation, that I opened an email some years ago to discover that I had been discovered. Mary had found me. On the Internet.  There was nothing challenging in the content, only a self identification and questions only I could answer. And by some fortune I did choose to answer.

In the years since we exchanged countless emails and added additional email correspondents into a fairly steady group.  Mary became a highly sought after thinker in at least a couple of these groups. We very much enjoyed her reports of her constant travels, her impressions of people and places, her joys and travails with her dogs. I often urged her to start writing a blog.

But in the background was a career history that few people knew.  Mary did not pursue Anthropology. However, she took some principles from it and applied them to degrees and a career in Social Work.  Her work immersed her in many of the human tragedies that lead so many social workers to leave the field and not look back.  She not only stayed with it, she married a psychologist, raised a family, and helped found a clinic. Through several geographic moves she also acquired and raised a variety of dogs, most of whom could be described as Special Needs dogs.

But her inherent nurturing of non-humans and humans alike found many expressions and, at times, some quandaries.  In one set of email exchanges she sent me pictures of a mountain lion lounging on her Colorado property waiting for her dogs to come outside.  Concerned for the dogs, but also for the lion, she asked how to permanently scare it away without hurting it. I told her that her only safe option was a Taurus Judge .410 shotgun revolver and I instructed her in how to load the cylinder in a graduated non-lethal to lethal way.  As far as I know she did so and solved the problem. But then a rat took up residence inside a storeroom in her house.  She set up a game camera and sent videos of the rat doing ratty things in the storeroom.  Again, how to evict the rat harmlessly?  I told her once a rat has found a nice place they will not give it up.  She captured the rat a couple of times in a humane live trap and transported it miles from her home before releasing it.  A few night later it was back. To be sure it was the same rat she again trapped it and painted its tail before driving miles to release it.  A few days later, a painted rat in the storeroom.  I’m not sure how or if she resolved the rat problem but it was starting to look like our negotiations with North Korea.

Mary was raised a conservative Catholic. As such she had an appreciation for many of the manifestations of cognitive dissonance among people whose faith puts them in one world while they live in another. She appreciated the aphorism that: Man invented God, made this God omnipresent, then failed to see God all around and within themselves.  Below is a typical email from Mary which I think captures her personhood quite well:

“I’ve been so busy and traveling I have forgotten what I have told you about.  I know I have been derelict contributing to the email group. I understand if my membership is revoked.  I think I told you both in May we had a 4ft snow storm.  I saw something in the snow and checked it out.  It was a hummingbird, who I was pretty sure was dead.  Let me switch gears here a moment. I was just in Florida with my cousin who was talking about how she feels we haven’t scratched the surface in seeing animals in nature.  She said, like the videos we all most likely have seen now where they have glasses for people who are colored blind and see colors for the first time.  They cry and ask how people who can see real colors can get anything done and just not stare at the colors all day. She thinks some day we will see animals like that.  So, back to the hummingbird.  I held it in my hands warming it up and sure enough it came back to life.  When it seemed fully resurrected I went outside and opened my hand.  It looked me right in the eye and then flew off.  I sit on my deck around sunset daily.  Every day, since the humming bird left, when I’m sitting on the deck he comes and flies right at my eyes and hovers a bit then takes off.  I’ve been gone for about a week.  When I got home yesterday I sat on the deck and unbelievably, I’m sure it is the same hummingbird, came and sat on my thigh.  It had to have sat there for almost 5 minutes.  I’m sure I’m colored blind to what happens in nature but now and again, I’m not.” 

Mary’s sudden death is still a great shock – and this comes from a person very familiar with death.  It is hard even to write this as I will post it and part of me will look daily for her comments.  No matter where she was or what she was doing she always took time to post some comments.  When I started teaching college classes all those decades ago I quickly realized the difference between talking to someone and talking with someone. Many people read these posts, very few bother themselves to talk with me. Mary always did.  To the extent that we are in some way the people with whom we interact I feel an empty space inside. I have felt that before, and long ago realized one does not seek out a “replacement part” to fill that space. One remembers that person and carries forward the lessons and benefits of having known them, thus making ongoing relationships with others that much more fulfilling and rewarding for all.

Thank you, Mary.

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Thanks Given

                                                               Thanks Given

                                                           by Marco M. Pardi

“Men are more ready to repay an injury than a benefit because gratitude is a burden and revenge a pleasure.”

Tacitus. (CE 56?-120?)

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All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

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Those of you familiar with American holidays know we just passed through Thanksgiving – or it passed through us.  Or, wait a minute, maybe that was Black Friday. It’s sometimes hard to remember what to celebrate in a society which conflates consumerism with happiness.

This year I’ve noticed a great increase in the frequency of people asking, “What are you thankful for?” The most egregious example came from the White House press secretary when, during a daily briefing, she demanded that each member of the press corps with a question preface their question with a statement of what they were thankful for. I might have said I would be thankful for the truth, but understood it was not to be found here.

Even the gaggle of newscasters and television talk show hosts parrot this question and respond with maudlin replies from their little worlds. I suspect the very marked increase this year reflects the sense of helplessness and resignation as the once good American society is finally and admittedly lost to the Fascist regime which seized power last November. The replies portray a desperate search for something pleasant in an overwhelmingly unpleasant reality.

But I always had problems with the What are you thankful for question.  The term thankful implies, to me, a specific entity as the recipient of the thanks. Most if not all of my life I have viewed everything holistically; isolating something as an autonomous entity is artificial, incomplete, and misleading. I recognize that we do this, but only for the sake of establishing order in what otherwise would be our chaotic mind. So, when someone asks my views on gratitude to God, I say the question is irrelevant; something which is omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient is everything at once, hence it is no thing and cannot even be referred to much less thanked. I could more easily thank Orgasma von Klampitt who, some sixty years ago, introduced me to all things carnal. I suspect she would respond with, Who are you?

Perhaps I should send my thanks further back.  Thank you, Big Bang, for exploding outward some 14 billion years ago, sending energy into nothingness in a gigantic pinball game that, in one infinitesimally tiny area of space eventually resulted in the collision of a sperm cell and an egg from which came me. I’m not ready to render thanks for all that came afterward, the jury is still out on that. And there have even been times when I questioned the wisdom of blowing yourself up in the first place (and I do mean first place). 

I think a lot may have happened in those 14 billion years.  Since quantum mechanics teaches us to view existence in probabilities and potentials, was (am) I in there somewhere?  We sometimes tell children they were once a “twinkle in your daddy’s eye”.  Was I a twinkle in some supernova?

But look, here we are, slogging through life like inchworms on a flat and finite plane unable to look back for origins or look ahead to the exact day we fall off.  Yet, completely out of context we attribute causes and declare effects pronouncing some to be thankful for and others bad luck. Does that make a shred of sense?  Is it any wonder so many people are fully embedded in the “It’s all about me!” mentality? I didn’t think so.

It seems to me that gratitude, thankfulness, whatever you want to call it is, if it is realized in the fullness of context, remarkably like the triple omni concept of God:  Omni-present means there is nothing it is not in, so there is no sense in conceiving of it since the act of conceiving of it immediately isolates it into whatever it is you think it is and disregards the rest. When I look at how certain events in my life unfolded I can say with certainty I did not set them in motion (and that’s as well for “good” and “bad”); thinking otherwise, when realized in full context, awards me the power of omnipotence. It also suggests I did so fully knowingly, giving me the power of omniscience.  

How much of our lives is our own doing and how much the doing of other people, factors, etc.?  For untold generations people have treated maladies as something the affected persons brought on themselves. Worse yet, I’ve heard people declare birth defects in newborns as divine justice for some imagined transgression of the parents.  Cancer patients faced suspicion that some behavior, smoking, drinking, etc. caused them to “get” cancer.  It must have been allowed in from the outside. Our language still betrays these biases: What’s gotten into you? What’s eating you?

But attitudes are changing, if only slowly.  A few years ago I had a run of atrial fibrillation with tachycardia.  I went to a hospital emergency room.  While addressing the issues the physician asked my academic and career background. He then asked me, “What’s going on? I have six patients of various ages with symptoms just like yours.”

I reminded him we were in the midst of a violent solar storm and, the heart being a largely electrical device, I was not surprised at possible effects from the incoming solar electric activity. We considered that and I promised to do a retrospective analysis of the MMWR (Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report) for the appropriate weeks to determine any statistical spikes in reported cardiac issues.  Indeed, I did the analysis and found that, unfortunately, sub-lethal cardiac events were not recorded. And, I could find no cardiac lethality rate exceeding standard deviation.

Yet, I well remember chronic episodes of these symptoms when stationed in places where, for instance, air pollution was profound or where I was at great altitude.  I do not recall deciding to spend the day gasping as my heart leapt randomly around my chest or my pulse stuck at 160 beats per minute. 

I recently read that one of the survivors of the Las Vegas mass shooting was later run over and killed by a hit and run driver.  I’m sure some people would say Death tried and missed in Vegas but got him in the end. Others would say, No, he was not supposed to die in Vegas. His death was supposed to be a life changing event for the driver of the car that hit him.  These are inch worms some of us know; they are the ones who look at the present and extrapolate the past, complete with “plans” and events to be thankful for.  Commonly we hear, “It was God’s plan.” And we hear that from the very same people who assure us it is impossible to know the mind of God.

Some people express gratitude for longevity. My impression is they haven’t yet gotten old enough to experience being old.  Most of the truly old people I’ve known spent their last years saying they would be thankful when it’s over.

For me, a person who is thankful for extra years is simply a person who mistakenly presumed they were supposed to already be dead.  There’s no one to thank. There is, however, someone (the thankful person) who needs to re-examine the quality of their thinking.

So feel free to call me an ingrate.  I won’t thank you for it, but neither will I blame you.  I am, however, thankful for any and all your comments.

 

Attention: Humans

                                                                       Attention: Humans

                                                                       by Marco M. Pardi

“People in our culture have a morbid tendency to avoid blame, because they do not wish to take the trouble to change their conduct in any way: blame-avoidance and blame-transference are therefore endemic amongst us. These are substitutes for repentance and renewal.”

BEHAVIOR RESEARCH PROJECT (Texas) 1951

“Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

The Dalai Lama

He who cannot dance claims the floor is uneven. Hindu saying.

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All comments welcome and provided a response.

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Humans, we recently became aware that one or more of your number published a plea that you no longer refer to solitary mass murderers as “lone wolves”.  While we wolves have not seen this publication and therefore cannot give it due credit, we, the wolves, wish to enhance the theme with information and thoughts by which you, with your self declared intellectual superiority might benefit.

First, we remind you that you are animals.  Oh? Think not? What are you then, plants? Stones? We find it curious that an animal which bristles at being called an animal uses so many comparisons to other animals.  You say someone eats like a pig, is stubborn as a mule, reproduces like rabbits, and drinks like a fish. Yet you say someone is brave as a lion, has a memory like an elephant, is agile as a mountain goat, sly as a fox, wise as an owl, and noble as an eagle. Even one of your classic civilizations credited us. Remember the legend of the two infant brothers raised by one of our female wolves? Of course, when the boys grew up Romulus murdered Remus and went on to found Rome. We suspect we should have seen that coming.  But doubtless you can think of more examples.

Second, as animals you, like any other species of plant or animal exist only through the relationship you have with your environment.  Sure, you have developed endless technology to intervene between you and the normal variations and processes in “nature”.  But in truth, you are the Apex Invasive Species, you are the Apex Predator on this planet.  You have spread your teeming masses to every livable continent on this planet, despoiling everywhere including Antarctica.  Your “pesticides” are found in the body fat of almost every species no matter where they are.  You claim to need these pesticides to assure your crops. Yet every year you throw out millions of tons of food before it ever reaches the market. Why? It’s not aesthetically pleasing. Or, you want to ensure high prices. Your plastics are found in the dead bodies of animals you will never see.

You came into our forests, thriving ecosystems for a broad spectrum of biodiversity, and you stripped them bare for an extremely narrow ecosystem you know as pastureland to raise cattle and sheep, animals which require huge amounts of fresh water and which emit even larger volumes of deadly methane gas.  You then force these animals into slaughter houses where, if they are subject to your religious laws such as kosher or halal, you slit their throats and let them stagger around in their own blood until they collapse.  Of course, most of you don’t do this; you allocate the dirty work to butchers who will wrap the meat in pretty packages for you.  You cannot stomach the reality of getting food for yourself. You eat some and throw the rest away. Our cousins, the coyotes, have long known they can subsist entirely on the dumpsters outside your restaurants and fast food joints.

You came into our forests to kill us when in fact you destroyed our food source and laid out a buffet of cattle and sheep we had little choice but to take our sustenance from. You gas our dens to kill our children so they will not grow up to sustain the balance with our prey animals such as deer and elk, animals you want to kill for your own amusement or because, having killed their natural predator they have become overpopulated.  You claim hunting is to “put meat on the table” when the money you spent on a hunting vehicle, fuel, high powered rifle and ammunition, hunting license and tags would keep meat from the local grocery store on your table for many months if not years.  No, you just enjoy feeling the power of killing an unarmed animal as in those “canned hunts” so popular in States like Texas. You kill an average of 96 African elephants a day, taking the ivory for trinkets and leaving the animal to rot.  You kill scores of rhinos yearly taking only the horn the powder of which you think will make your pitiful penises erect. You de-fin live sharks, leaving them to die a miserable death of starvation while you cook the fins for soup. You torture bulls to death, even setting their horns on fire for your amusement. And, sadly, the list goes on.

You raise populations of fur bearing animals, including “Man’s best friend”, in cages to electrocute them for your fur trimmed fashion garments and soft gloves made from dog skin.

You “introduced” us (we call it “returned” us) into parts of the northwest United States to show how good you are, how ecologically advanced you are. What happened?  The ecosystem quickly began recovering.  Streams that had become fast moving torrents yielding flash flooding and unsuitable conditions for fish, beavers, and a multitude of other animals began returning to a state which supports the balance of life. How so?  After you had trapped and shot us to near extinction the deer and elk were then free to wade into the wetlands, where they had been vulnerable to us as they sank a bit into the mud,  and eat the young shoots growing there.  Those shoots would have grown into the plants that stabilized the stream, keeping it from eroding the banks and making the water unlivable and dangerous.  As we returned, the deer and elk avoided those young shoots and the streams returned to a livable ecosystem.  And now you want to trap, gas, and shoot us again.      

Recently one of your “intelligent” hunters shot and killed a family therapy dog from ten feet away.  He claimed he thought it was one of us.  Apparently his only familiarity with us comes from the Big Bad Wolf type cartoons you scare your children with, just as the only familiarity so many of your self-styled “cowboys” have with cattle is the drawing of Elsie on their milk carton.

We know of no other animal which kills for enjoyment on the scale you do. You even kill each other in massive numbers.  You gut programs that help people live healthy and educated lives in favor of programs to develop even deadlier weapons for killing each other. No other animal on the face of this Earth is so consumed by and dedicated to the mass extermination of its own kind. No other animal on the face of this Earth claims divine sanction from some spiritual being as the justification for exterminating people who do not believe in or worship this particular being.     

For these reasons and many more we, the wolves, demand you cease and desist from calling your murderers, whether killers of a few or killers of many, “lone wolves”.  That is a despicable slander against our good name and against our long standing place in nature.  In fact, we can think of no greater slander than calling one of us “human”.

Enemy of the State

                                                                   Enemy of the State

                                                                    by Marco M. Pardi

“It is not enough for a prophet to be inspired by God; he also must be informed about the world. The world and its fate are very dear to him. There is no hostility to civilization, only to its abuses.” Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) The Prophets, 11, 1962

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All comments welcome and each will receive a response.

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In discussing the Anthropology of group organization and the development of political systems I distinguished between Nation and State, a commonly overlooked or misunderstood distinction. Nation refers to people of the same or very similar background and values no matter their location relative to each other. Thus, Cherokee Nation includes people in various (of the United) States or elsewhere even if they never meet. It is their demonstrable and felt ethnic solidarity which places them in the Nation, not their presence within a geo-political boundary. There can be no Nation in which there are no people.

“State” is a geographically bounded abstract.  It can be visualized as a flow chart of power and responsibilities, with each position currently empty. So, if every person left the “State of Missouri” the State would not cease to exist. It would simply not be populated, just as the chart would not be populated.

As some, not all, human groups developed from egalitarian bands to council of elders led tribes and on to single person led chiefdoms they continued to State level.  However, the continuation included the personhood of the hereditary leader first seen at the chiefdom level. Hence, the evolution of the “royal family” be it kings, pharaohs, monarchs, or emperors.  This readily provided what seemed to be a natural conflation of the person of the leader with the nature of the State.  And as all power was vested in the leader, what was good for the leader was good for the State; the obverse, of course being what was bad for the leader was bad for the State. It did not take long for the “what” to be vested in a “who”. Who was good for the leader was good for the State, etc.  

That is, views whether supportive or opposing, do not spring to life sui generis; they are conceived, developed, and held by persons.  Those persons, then, are subject to judgment. And history provides a rich tapestry depicting the various degrees to which views could be freely expressed or in some fashion suppressed by “the State”.

My federal career spanned nine Presidents. Each was different, but the ones from one certain Party had one thing in common: they initiated and developed all out attacks on the free press ( every medium).  Several stations were threatened with loss of license. I first saw the media attacks with Richard Nixon’s henchman Spiro Agnew, later forced to resign for income tax evasion. I think this era saw the inception of the terms “liberal, left-wing media” into the American lexicon. And, of course, it was that free press which educated us regarding Nixon’s attempt to cover up Watergate (though the press did not discuss Watergate’s true purpose or who was behind it). 

During the Watergate investigation President Nixon’s “Enemies List” came to light. But this was a personal list, a list of people who, in Nixon’s mind, could do him political damage. There were no agencies or institutions listed. A strong concern at the time was whether Nixon would pressure the Internal Revenue Service to take action against his “enemies”. Daniel Schorr, an Emmy winning journalist and prominent name on the list, had reason to fear for more than his bank account.

Later, as the evangelical religion industry largely absorbed this political party, sharing some of its feeding with the National Rifle Association and, covertly, with various White Supremacist groups the free press was also branded as “secular and profane”.  Jerry Falwell, an architect of the mega-church televangelist industry crowed he had gotten Reagan elected. Fitting that another actor, Charlton Heston, who seemed to have never gotten over his role as Moses (Ten Commandments) became the leader and spokesperson of the NRA.  And emerging as the State “spokesperson” was, then in its infancy, FOX News, a consortium many have called The Voice of the 4th Reich.

Every subsequent president from that political party has criticized the national news media, with the exception of FOX News.  None have emerged as having kept a personal enemies list.  However, the message was clear when the man who was president during the September 11th Twin Towers attacks asserted boldly, “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.” That covered a lot of demographics.  In fact, during this time the Director of Personnel at a federal agency in which I served asked me into his office to review a document from the White House.

It enumerated a long list of the president’s priorities item by item with a space for the reader to sign each item affirming their allegiance to the president and his plans.  According to the accompanying paperwork, this was to be distributed to all personnel in that agency and returned to the White House.

I read it through and simply stated that my allegiance, as in my oath, was to the Constitution and to the people of the United States.  This document was a prolonged and exacting loyalty oath to a person.

The Director agreed and, after a few others expressed the same view, sent the document back that day. Not long after, spurious charges were leveled at the Director. Knowing my career was at risk, and why, I testified in closed hearing on his behalf.  Yet, he was unsurprisingly forced into early retirement.  The hearing was a sham.

The current president is long on record as placing personal loyalty to him above all other considerations in an underling.  And, as the underlings absorb this value they act in their turn. An example is Nick Ayers, a former Georgia Republican political consultant now Chief of Staff to the Vice President. As reported by Jay Bookman, of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, during the week of this writing Ayers “urged top Republican donors to take out anybody in the GOP who dares to question or challenge (the President), a step that would pretty much complete its transformation into a personality cult. ‘”Just imagine the possibilities of what can happen if our entire party unifies behind him. If – and this sounds crass – we can purge the handful of people who continue to work to defeat him.”‘

The attacks coming out of the White House multiply and expand daily. The United States has long been suffering from the It Can’t Happen Here syndrome. The drivers of this syndrome are clever enough to segment the threats in ways beyond the ability of many Americans to connect. Stand back a moment and consider the variety of daily news grabbers, from taking a knee to bump stocks to health reform to tax reform to N. Korea to the Iran deal to castrating the environmental agencies to giving religions the power to buy elections to silencing unapproved news outlets to stripping women of their right to control their own reproductive function and on and on. A mosaic should be forming. And the world has seen it before.  

The attacks on the First Amendment are stunning. The current president is threatening the licenses of the major news networks.  They tell the truth, showing in his own words how he contradicts himself and capriciously undercuts and insults the very people he put into office. So, he calls it “fake news”.

The drive to reduce or eliminate freedom of choice in reproduction is nothing more than a drive to ensure a population desperate enough to work at low wages without benefits or recourse. And, it ensures a ready pool of cannon fodder to further the Fascist aims of the Republican Party. Wrapping it in the guise of morals is a vile and simple minded hoax.

As clearly spelled out in the Constitution, the State is a structure, not a person. This State is structured to afford and guarantee the people (Nation) certain freedoms.  An enemy of the State is a person who wishes to destroy the structure.  As we see the daily efforts by the current president to regress into a society in which the Head of State IS the State/Nation, we might ask ourselves, Who is the Enemy of the State? 

Here’s to Females

                                                                   Here’s To Females

                                                                    by Marco M. Pardi

“Across the curve of the earth, there are women getting up before dawn, in the blackness before the point of light, in the twilight before sunrise; there are women rising earlier than men and children to break the ice, to start the stove, to put up the pap, the coffee, the rice, to iron the pants, to braid the hair, to pull the day’s water from the well, to boil the water for tea, to wash the children for school, to pull the vegetables and start the walk to market, to run and catch the bus for the work that is paid, I don’t know when most women sleep.” Adrienne Rich. (1929 -) Notes Toward a Politics of Location. 1984

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All comments welcome

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By now most readers know I take great interest in why people choose to use the words they do. That could easily be the subject of a major book. But recently the oaf some misguided Americans put in the White House called NFL players who kneel in protest during the national anthem “sons of bitches”.  I do not usually listen much to Trump’s speeches or news conferences. I can get more honest and intelligent information by listening to the toilet flush.

Son of a bitch was one of the first American slang terms I learned as I was listening for rebuttals I could use against those American kids who were incessantly calling me vile names for being from Italy.  I hadn’t yet discovered the term “mongrel” which would have more aptly described them.  Nor had I yet discovered the true meaning of “son of a gun”, a profoundly insulting term. So son of a bitch seemed exciting, even if off the mark for some reason.

But as I thought about it I wondered why people thought a female dog, or any dog, was so terrible. I decided these were people who had little contact with or understanding of dogs.  I think too, they conflated fictitious gender based myths with females in general.  I’ve had several dogs, some female, and had no problems with them. Okay, one greeted guests by taking a blood sample instead of a sniff. But she was really nice.

I think it is still far more likely that negative judgments about a female will be based on gender myths than would be the case for males.  This has been true for a long time.  While Trump was enjoying his 5th draft deferment, and defending against a federal lawsuit alleging housing discrimination against Blacks, I was explaining to my Anthropology classes why, overall, human females were “as good or better” than human males in most ways. We examined the myth of the “hunter-gatherer” and found that fecal analysis clearly indicates the diet of early Man was predominately vegetable, and only supplemented occasionally with meat, much of it likely scavenged from predator kills. Women and children dominated the gathering and food preparation, as they still do today in many societies. We looked at “higher” Primates for male/female patterns and found that while the myth gives us a dominant male gathering a female harem around him the realities of ethological studies show us multiple bonded females with a solitary adult male and a few juvenile males. The males serve only two purposes: reproduction and the discouraging of predators. In sum, the male dominated sciences, especially as laid out in text books, were slow in catching up to realities.  But, as might be expected of the times (late ’60’s and early ’70’s) the discussion turned to women in combat.

Starting with the basics, physiology studies of the time – the late ’60’s and early ’70’s, showed clearly that human females expended roughly half the calories as males in performing the most of the same tasks. So, using my recent military experience and knowledge of lightened weapons and gear, I expressed my preference for a female long range penetration team to “take the lead and eliminate sniper positions and/or enemy advanced scouts”. Women could go further on fewer calories (“An army travels on its stomach”); were just as good as men in marksmanship (a famous example among many being Lyudmila Pavlichenko with a confirmed 309 kills at Stalingrad); and were not at all squeamish at the sight of blood (the Israeli army quickly found that its female soldiers were far more likely to inflict brutal mutilations on captive and corpses alike).  Still, some insist they are inferior in hand-to-hand combat.  But those of us deeply familiar with such combat know speed and accuracy count for far more than blunt force. Women have it on speed and accuracy.

While I could not observe my students in hand-to-hand combat, or in marksmanship, I did observe their behavior at the sight of a human dissection. Are women really that squeamish?  The group of my Death & Dying students I brought to an autopsy was evenly divided male to female. Before the torso Y cut was finished one male passed out cold and two others were weaving.  Eventually all the males wound up on the floor.  The females, however, took advantage of the extra room at the table to press in for closer looks. So much for the guys who had boasted how experienced and tough they were.

Those who still have doubts about women in the military may want to take those doubts to U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Andrea D. Tullos, Director of Security Forces or U.S. Air Force CMSGT Tamala L. Hartz, Security Forces Directorate. They will certainly put concerns to rest.  If you send your concerns or questions to me, I will see that they receive them and I will send you their responses.

In recent decades we’ve seen an increase in the number of females in significant political and diplomatic roles. Of course, history enthusiasts can point to Boudicca, the Celtic warrior queen, Jean of Arc, or Queen Victoria but I am no historian.  I see various women in recent decades who have been brilliant in their political or diplomatic careers.  As I write this I think of a possible exception, Margaret Thatcher of the U.K.  I say that because she was so effusive in her praise of Ronald Reagan.  But my better Muses tell me she was playing to Reagan’s puppet masters, who scripted the coherent things he had to say.  

We could easily enumerate the women CEOs, still under represented in the male dominated business world, and the outstanding actresses, still cast in “supporting” roles.  And women in all manner of science, technology, engineering, math, the arts. But I think we are on message: There is nothing lesser about being female.  

What about us ordinary people?  Referred to a top medical specialist, do we look past her when a woman enters the examining room?  Seeing our Uber driver pull up, how do we feel on seeing it’s a woman?  And speaking of driving, which is more likely to scream at you, ram your car or pull a gun and shoot at you in traffic?  A woman? A man?

Okay, I guess I’ve made my point. But I still do not understand what is so terrible about a female dog. So I raise my glass (Tonic water & lime) to females everywhere, two and four legged alike though I would never refer to either as bitches. 

Natural Point of Aim

                                                                            Natural Point of Aim

                                                                               by Marco M. Pardi

                  

“There are no precedents: You are the first You that ever was.” Christopher Morley. (1890-1957). Inward Ho! 1923.

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All comments welcome

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True to the genre, self-help books are blossoming on the market.  The old saying, “Self-help books are like diet books; no one can have just one” definitely applies.  Now, if the book addresses a specific issue it may have some merit. But we periodically see books that purport to solve all our problems – so long as we perform the physical and/or mental disciplines advanced by the authors and do so on a daily basis.

I get really irked when I see the books which claim to guide us to our true identity, and worse yet, to our higher purpose. It is hard to escape the conclusion that these authors view the broad spectrum of humanity in conveniently categorical ways. (A diet book corollary claims one should eat according to one’s blood type. Aside from the gross misunderstanding of blood type, there is scant evidence that following the supposedly appropriate diet yields anything more than a placebo effect).   

When I see books which claim to lead us to our identity, and to our purpose in life I think of a favorite book from years ago, If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him.  The meaning here is obvious: enlightenment is a singular and ultimately personal event. I cannot tell you that you are enlightened; you cannot tell me I am not.  I do, however, respect those rare books which guide. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying is a favorite. Sounds arcane, but it is precisely written without judgmental positions or implications. There are no tests, there are no diplomas.

For people who are put off by such exotic sounding fare I would reiterate a sentiment I expressed elsewhere: I am thrilled when I find that a seemingly narrow and context bound principle is indeed applicable in a variety of applications.  Two examples germane to this topic came from Marksmanship training and an Alcohol rehab.  

I had owned and used several handguns and long guns before receiving formal training in their use.  I had several times spent a week or so alone in the woods with just a handgun and a knife to feed myself. So, I was not altogether new to the techniques being taught.  But match competition entailed learning a particular stance. Imagine this: Standing in the firing lane sideways to the 50 meters distant target holding a .45 semi-automatic at full arm extension. As you sight in on 6 o’clock on the tiny bull’s eye you notice your arm quivering. What to do?  Answer: You swivel your head to face front, away from the target and you relax your arm as you let it rotate into a comfortable, steady position. That position is called your Natural Point of Aim.

Once your arm is steady you swivel your head to look through the sights.  But you discover your handgun is several inches to one side of the target. Do you move your arm? No. That would return you to a quiver.  Instead, you move your back foot, bringing your arm to align on the target. In short, your arm is in synch with your entire body.  Proof of this comes when the recoil of the first round returns your aim precisely to the bull’s eye without you having to do anything.  Hold that thought.

The second example developed when, years later, a college administrator asked me to assist him in bringing a fellow faculty member into a 28 day alcohol rehab program.  As we got her through registration and into her room she commented on other patients we had seen. “They seem in a lot worse shape than me.” The administrator instantly said, “Do NOT compare yourself to anyone else.” I had never heard him speak so forcefully. Obviously, those words stayed with me to this day.  For me, they carry meaning far beyond the single episode playing out in that room.  Comparison to others is not simply irrelevant, it is potentially very damaging either way: “I’m better; I’m worse.”  Instead, what I am is Different and preordained value systems do not apply.

The late 1960’s and early 1970’s were filled with popular discussions of Biology versus Culture, “Nature versus Nurture”.  In teaching Anthropology classes to young college students it was clear they were looking for an alternative.  One day I picked up a blackboard eraser and informed the class it was a 1911A1 .45 caliber semi-automatic.  I told them I had been given the task of shooting the pencil sharpener on the far wall, some 50′ away.  As I entered a common stance I could see the class was largely convinced; several students ducked as the eraser swung their way. I then explained the quivering of the “handgun” and proceeded into the exercise I described above. Then I invited anyone in the class to come up, take the eraser and, with my help, put their feet exactly where my feet were and see if they were on the bull’s eye. Of course the students realized that simply could not happen; each person is built differently, each person is individual.  (Yes, you can try this at home. It would be especially interesting if you had a twin.)

The fundamental point of the handgun exercise is simply that no Range Instructor can tell you exactly how to stand, no training manual can give you the 12 Steps to Success; you must immerse yourself in the holistic experience, the relationship of the bull’s eye to the barrel to the hand to the arm to the body to your breath and ultimately to the juxtaposition of what IS at that point in time and space. Only you will have that experience. Some readers will recognize this as the fundamental principle of Zen archery. I engaged in that practice for several years as well. 

The Nature versus Nurture debate is a false dichotomy.  Each person is not merely an expression of their genes but also an expression of their (culturally driven) life habits.  The easiest example comes from examination of the arm bones and muscles of professional baseball pitchers.  We can tell not only whether he was right or left handed but also get a good sense of the particular throwing habits and years in the game by the distortion of the bones and development of the muscles. The principle applies in every aspect of our lives, expressing the intermesh of biology, culture, and personal habits.  In the classroom case I encouraged the students to each find their natural point of aim in life and in so doing to discover themselves.  And, do NOT compare yourself to others.  In a classroom culture ultimately ranked by grades, this is hard for some students to overcome.

So, the risks with the self-help genre as I see it are the aforementioned strong tendency to divide people into pre-determined categories, with presumed maladies, and then pitch “solutions” to them.  This encourages people to seek others “like themselves” and, through comparison, determine if they are working the solutions correctly or, worse yet, if the others are doing it all wrong and need some advice.    

So, have I written a How To piece despite my disdain for such material.  I hope I have written, if anything, a guide, not a manual.  Ultimately one can recall the popular wisdom of the ’60’s/’70’s, “The universe is unfolding as it should” and dismiss every person’s orientation and behavior as the expression of their Natural Point of Aim.  While that is certainly possible it cannot be denied that some people live in chronic distress from their perception that they are missing the target they have selected. Perhaps this small piece helps.

NOTE: Moments after I posted this I was notified that my older granddaughter, a college Junior, had passed the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test) on her first try. She was told her score was high enough for her to apply to the College of Medicine of her choice. What was her score? She will not tell anyone, even her mother. Why? Even though her younger brother is now in one of the highest ranked Colleges of Engineering and her younger sister is firmly on track to complete a B.S. in Physics very soon after her high school graduation, she does not want to establish any markers by which her siblings would draw comparisons to their own achievements.  I don’t know about you, but I consider this display of maturity a sure sign my elder granddaughter has found her Natural Point of Aim.

Decathexion

                                                                      Decathexion                                                                                                                                  (from Greek: Letting go)

                                                                  by Marco M. Pardi

                                                                       mpardi.com

“Desire is the root of all suffering” Ascribed to Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha.

“In the grand scheme of things, the vast majority of humankind will never know you ever existed” Me

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All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

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On paper, I have been retired from the last of my several intertwined long term careers since 2014.  I can recall living in Florida many years ago and picturing retirement as a vigorous day at the shuffle board court or, as I saw so often, a late afternoon on a park bench feeding pigeons from one paper bag and myself from another. Now, although I attend to my bird feeders daily, neither of those Florida options is appealing.

In a sense, we’ve been retiring from things, and people, all our lives.  This strongly occurred to me during my work with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, developing Death Education and Hospice Care in North America. Obviously, the focus then was on end of life issues, especially those pertinent to long term irreversible decline.  But as I thought more about decathexion (sometimes spelled decathection), the process of letting go of attachments, I began to see it in every phase of our lives.

As parents we watch our children lose interest in once favorite toys, we say they “outgrow” them.  All in the nature of things.  We move those toys to the garage sale pile or the donations pile, telling our children some other little boy or girl will have a toy. 

Sometimes those toys aren’t given up, they are taken by circumstance.  When my daughter was 3 years old the strap on a little bucket broke and her favorite tea set smashed to the driveway. The absolute anguish she expressed stayed with me to this day.  And, 40 years later I gave her a tea set I had found that was a close match. She had no recollection of the childhood set, but remembers the recent set as something from me to her.

Around the same time in her childhood she and I debarked from a train in Vienna very early one morning. Only after the train had left for Budapest did I realize I had left her favorite doll in the cabin. Despite the commitments waiting in Vienna, I rushed us to a toy store, waited for it to open and got her a little stuffed bear we named Orso (Italian for Bear).  Orso travelled with us through several more countries, eventually becoming Naturalized in the U.S.  Where he is now is anyone’s guess.      

Looking at the seemingly endless television coverage of terrorist acts, warfare, famines, wildfires, landslides, and victims of Hurricane Harvey I see the entire span of human life, literally from birth to old age. I mentally freeze frame the individuals, wondering what it is they feel they’ve lost. What were they attached to?  What did they presume the future held for them? No doubt the older ones have answers to their questions of causality.  But what do we tell the children? God’s will?  Man’s stupidity?  In Vienna I took what I thought was the easiest and quickest way out and told my daughter her doll had to go to Budapest.  Sure. Now answer “WHY???”

But even a 3 year old didn’t easily transfer from her doll to her bear.  And, as they age children lose the sense (some would say trust) that their adults have the right answers.  I’ve heard it said that the experience of loss, especially if suffered early, helps inure you against the worse effects of greater losses further on.  I have never accepted that, and do not now. Each loss has its own story, each is unique.  And, because each loss is unique it is difficult to categorize them.  A quick attempt might yield People and Things.  But no sooner do I think that than I think of the non-human companions who have meant much more to me than most humans I’ve known, and certainly all objects I’ve owned. These companions certainly weren’t “things”.  In fact, even a cursory examination of the concept, Mini-Death introduces us to a hitherto unrealized variety of potential losses. 

Recently I wrote a condolence card to a family that had to euthanize their dog.  In it I wondered at how we know we are likely to outlive our dogs and will likely face the difficult and painful decision they recently did, yet we adopt them anyway.  As old as I am, there have been several dogs, cats and horses. It never gets easier. But what would I lose if I decided to decathect from further adoptions?  I would lose a unique companionship and a mysterious bond I simply cannot find with another human.  I would also lose self respect; knowing I could save a non-human animal from confinement and death, and I did not. 

Watching television coverage of people fleeing their homes I see, particularly in the case of wildfires, people grabbing whatever is valuable to them and portable. Family albums are common.  But there are still people who cling to heirlooms, things passed from one generation to the next.  However, there seems to be an increasing trend among younger people to reject heirlooms, or to quickly sell them when they feel obligated to receive them.  Perhaps this is in some way an artifact of a consumer society in which the object you bought just yesterday has been replaced by a newer version before you finish reading the instructions (if you do).  People, at increasingly younger ages, seem quickly obsolete as well.

I’ve never been much of a collector, but there have been times I have had to part with things I might otherwise have kept.  Moving as much as I have that is unavoidable.  Once, while several thousand miles away, I contracted an auction house to completely clean out my four bedroom home and sell all the contents. What they couldn’t sell went to charities. Ever found yourself saying, “If only I had kept that”?  I’m well aware I parted with things for pennies on the dollar. So it goes – or went.

What about people?  When I was visible in the field of Death & Dying some people tried to fit me into the mold of grief counselor.  I’ve never been skillful in that area.  I do distinguish grief from bereavement. I do subscribe to the position that grief beyond a given time (commonly cited as 18 months) indicates an underlying problem not related to the subject of the grieving.

Short of physically dying, how about friendships? I’m guessing most readers have had “close” friendships that seemed to peter out and disappear over the years.  “I wonder what happened to old So & So.” At my age I increasingly find myself thinking of someone, and then thinking They must be dead by now. Long dead in some cases. I didn’t feel the loss. But surely some are still alive, and probably thinking I’m dead. And, thinking back I can remember the wildly popular sentiment in the 1970’s, “If you love something (someone), let it go.” That was a tough one.

In the past few years we’ve seen significant progress in the treatment of post traumatic stress disorder.  Some of these were familiar to me, seeming derived from techniques used to move a person through grief.  Others, however, are new, especially the pharmacological methods. Propranolol has been remarkably successful at chemically washing out selected memories. I have vivid memories of decisions I had to make and actions I had to take.  Dwelling on these for even a minute can plunge me into the darkest blackness of soul I can imagine. I’ve spoken to no one about these, even my very dear friend Mark (Br. Mark Dohle).  But do I want to wash them away?  It’s tempting, but No. They are part of who I am and I feel they are part of the well from which I draw compassion and understanding for others.   

Yet, we do let go. We decathect from things and from people.  Perhaps there is some unspoken assumption “there will always be another”, the commonly said More fish in the sea. But the aging process is more intimate than decathecting from things and other people; it is also decathecting from functions and aspects of the self. Unless one dies instantly, decathexion from self will face each of us. In fact, a primary fear in facing death is loss of self.  A common question people express about what they hope is an “afterlife” is, Will I still be me?

The acceptance of the possibility that one is no longer the self one has come to know and love is the ultimate decathexion, the ultimate “test”. Serious evaluation of what we love and why we love it is a Life Curriculum, one for which there is no CLEP or cheat sheet. Know it or not, we are all in class.